How to Distress Fabric

by Veronica Maier

Distressing uses a wide variety of tools to get the desired worn effect.

Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images

People may look surprised when you tell them you are purposely making your new clothing look old and worn, but this could be because they simply haven’t kept up on the latest trends and fashions. Distressed jeans are in style. Distressing your clothes, fabric and jeans can save you the cost of purchasing expensive designer items. With the right tools, almost any fabric can be distressed Different distressing methods will give you very different looks. These methods can be used separately, or combined for a varied look.

Items you will need

  • Sand paper or cheese grater
  • Razor blade or small knife
  • Dirt
  • Lemon Juice
  • Rubber gloves
  • Paint brush
  • Bleach
  • Paint in color of your choice

Sanding Method

Step 1

Wash and dry the items you will distress. Wash and dry these items a number of times to get them soft and supple.

Step 2

Sand or grate the areas exposed to wear. Use the sand paper for a subtle look, or the cheese grater for a heavier distressing. For a shirt, sand areas like the knees, thighs edges of pockets, and the top of the collar and shirt cuffs.

Step 3

Cut small holes in the fabric. Using the razor blade or small knife, make small slicing motions against the fabric until it starts to wear through. Pick at some of the seams to make holes and tears. Rip a small hole in a pocket and use the sand paper to distress the area around the pocket.

Naturally Weathered Method

Step 1

Wash the item repeatedly before beginning the naturally weathering method. The washing will help the item to begin to loose its shape and to look weathered.

Step 2

Naturally bleach the fabric. Take the items outside and lay out in the sun. Turn them every few days and lay the items out in different folds to bleach in different areas. Apply lemon juice to areas of wear such as knees, elbows and pockets.

Step 3

Naturally bleach the fabric. Take the items outside and lay out in the sun. Turn them every few days and lay the items out in different folds to bleach in different areas. Apply lemon juice to areas of wear such as knees, elbows and pockets.

Step 4

Add a brown, oiled look. Apply dirt and an oily substance sparingly to random areas of the fabric and rub in with your hands before leaving in the elements until you achieve your desired distressed look.

Bleach and Paint Method

Step 1

Lightly bleach fabric. If you want an overall lighter look to the fabric, add ¼ cup of bleach to the washer before washing and drying.

Step 2

Lay the items flat in a well-ventilated area with some protective layer beneath to prevent bleaching your work surface.

Step 3

Mix and apply bleach mixtures. Put on a pair of rubber gloves and make a few cups of bleach mixture with different strengths: Ten percent, 25 percent and 50 percent. Using a paintbrush, apply the bleach to your fabric in your desired location.

Step 4

Mix and apply the paint. The paint can be applied full strength or diluted. Use the paint brush and apply paint sparingly, building up to bigger paint splotches as you go. If you want colored splotches, rub in the paint and smear. If you prefer neat paint lines, drip the paint with the other end of the paintbrush or a wooden utensil.

Photo Credits

  • Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images

About the Author

Veronica Maier has been an active online writer since 2010. She has been a contributing writer to eHow and Answerbag. Maier holds a Bachelor of Arts in art history and visual culture with an emphasis on the American modern from the University of California, Santa Cruz.